What exactly is the “American Dream”? According to Wikipedia, the concept was first expressed by James Truslow Adams in 1931, saying citizens of every rank feel that they can achieve a “better, richer, and happier life.” It was that kind of optimistic freedom that encouraged so many of our ancestors to immigrate to the United States. Of course, now the “American Dream” doesn’t seem to just include improving your life, but also getting famous. Instead of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, America has now become the land of unemployment, ridiculously expensive healthcare and the pursuit of a reality TV deal.
Recently, the world was captivated by a giant silver balloon floating over Colorado, reportedly with a small child inside. CNN put the breaking story on the front page of their website, broadcasters interrupted regularly scheduled programs and sent helicopters to follow the balloon, Twitter was nearly overloaded by all the people posting well wishes for poor Balloon Boy. Only, the kid was never in the balloon and it was later revealed that the boy’s family had concocted the whole thing as a publicity stunt to help them land a reality TV show. Now the backlash is enormous as both legitimate news and bloggers slam the family. The real question is, are we mad because the stunt grounded flights at Denver International Airport and took emergency services personnel away from real emergencies or are we just angry because we all fell for it?
As much as we want to dismiss the family, it seems they got what they wanted because the whole world was talking about them, and many news outlets continue to talk about them as the scandal unfolds. Just like Nadya Suleman, affectionately know as “Octomom”, they did something so crazy that they became celebrities from it. As long as squeezing every last drop out of those coveted 15 minutes of fame is everyone’s goal, the world will keep buzzing about non-celebrities like Jon and Kate Gosselin and churning out new “stars” like Tila Tequila. As Ricky Gervais once said, “You ask kids nowadays what they want to be and they say ‘famous’.” Everyone wants to be a star, and maybe that’s the problem.
This kind of non-celebrity is nothing new. Remember years ago when Paris Hilton first started creating a buzz? Everyone kept angrily asking, “But why is she famous? What has she actually done to get famous?” Was she an actress? A model? A singer? Why was everyone talking about her? As more and more people started rhetorically asking why the world cared about Hilton, she got more and more famous.
Since then, TV has churned out scores of reality “stars” who seem to be taking up valuable space in our collective brain and who make a trashy socialite like Hilton seem like Princess Diana by comparison. If you’ve watched VH1 for any length of time, you probably remember such useless “celebrities” as Tiffany “New York” Pollard and Brooke “Pumpkin” Thompson from Flavor of Love, Daisy DeLaHoya from Rock of Love 2 (and later her own spin-off Daisy of Love), and David “12 Pack” Amerman from I Love Money. While VH1 seems to be the largest factor in non-celebrity pollution, other networks have contributed to the mess. Let’s not forget that MTV, of course, gave the world Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt. Even legitimate networks like NBC, ABC and CBS have created pseudo-stars from series like The Bachelor or Survivor. At least with shows like American Idol people have to show some talent or skill to advance.
The sad/horrifying part of this is that it’s everyone’s fault. People don’t just get famous on their own. Fame requires a kind of agreement between the celebrity and the public and we all seem happy to enter into that contract. I’ve personally been a part of many conversations blasting crap reality shows and fake celebrities, yet these conversations all seem to end with people saying, “Except for ___, that show is actually really good.” I’m just as guilty of it—hell, I even created an entire section of Trashwire to document the everyday events inside the Big Brother house—and I don’t see any end in sight.
So what do we do? How can we stop this? The truth is, we can’t. It’s a global pandemic and there is no cure. As long as people remain fascinated by publicity hounds that will do anything to get on TV, the networks will keep spewing out more and more false celebrities. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to post a blog about how Adam from Big Brother got arrested for selling oxycodone.